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Legendary independence activist Su Beng dies at 100

2019/09/21 20:42:17

CNA file photo

Taipei, Sept. 21 (CNA) Su Beng (史明), one of the pioneers of the Taiwan independence movement, died Friday at the age of 100 in Taipei, according to his foundation.

Su Beng died of pneumonia on Friday evening, Su Beng Education Foundation chairwoman Huang Min-hung (黃敏紅) said Saturday.

"The life of Su Beng was long and splendid," Huang said. "Taiwan now has to decide which path to take."

Su Beng once said his dream of establishing Taiwan as an independent state would not come true in his life but would be realized someday "without a doubt."

Born into a wealthy family in Taipei under Japanese rule in 1918, Su Beng's given name was Lin Chao-hui (林朝暉) and he adopted the family name Shih (施) from his mother's side at the age of 11.

In his youth, Su Beng was close to Chiang Wei-shui (蔣渭水) and Lin Hsien-tang (林獻堂), Taiwan democracy pioneers and anti-Japanese activists who were friends of his father, and that experience sowed the seeds of his later anti-colonial activism.

Unlike most Taiwanese from his background who opted for a medical career, Su Beng studied politics and economics at Waseda University in Tokyo.

"I was the only one studying politics back then," he once said in an interview. "Other students chose to study medicine to make money and I looked down on that idea."

As Waseda University, known as a "hotbed of revolutionary thinking," Su Beng was steeped in progressive spirit and became a Marxist. He was drawn into the study of 20th century capitalism and class ideology which further deepened his resolve to resist Japan's imperialistic expansion.

Upon graduating from Waseda University in 1942, Su Beng moved to Shanghai to join the Red Army of the Communist Party of China (CPC) and stayed in China for seven years, later spying on Japan as an undercover agent and then fighting the Kuomintang (KMT) during the Chinese civil war.

Fighting against Japan, a nation where he had gone to school, alongside Han Chinese CPC members, the question of national identity perplexed Su Beng.

"I sang Japanese songs in childhood and had lots of memories with the Japanese," Su Beng once said in an interview. "Who am I going to be when Japan loses the war? "

Although he tried to fit into Chinese society, he became disillusioned with the CPC after witnessing its "use of extreme brutality and inhumanity" during land reform policy.

The rhetoric the CPC adopted was "faux Marxism," Su Beng said, and he declined when the CPC sought to recruit him.

He eventually made his way back to Taiwan in 1949, only to find that the KMT regime, as shown by its crackdown on dissidents during the White Terror period, was "not different from that of the CPC."

In 1952, Su Beng fled to Japan to seek political asylum after his involvement in a plot to assassinate then-President Chiang Kai-shek (蔣介石) was discovered and the KMT regime labeled him a communist.

During his stay in Japan, Su Beng, with the help of his girlfriend Hiraga Kyoko whom he first met in Beijing, started "New Gourmet," a food shop that sold dumplings and noodles, as a way to make a living and sustain his writing of the Japanese language version of "Taiwan's 400 Year History."

The book came out in 1962 and appeared in Chinese in 1980, recounting Taiwan's history since the first settlement by Han Chinese from a leftist perspective.

The Marxist historian first used the name Su Beng, literally meaning "historically clear" in Hoklo, as his pen name for the Japanese language version, to underline the importance of understanding history.

While running the noodle shop, Su Beng also started to train independence activists from Taiwan and even had a testing site for explosives in the shop.

As Chiang Ping-lun (江昺崙), who assisted with the book "The Oral History of Su Beng," noted, Su Beng could have lived a rich life with the money he earned from selling food, but he chose to use it to fund activists engaging in the Taiwan independence movement.

Su Beng established the Taiwanese Independence Association (TIA) in 1967, which reportedly provided underground training to more than 1,000 activists.

In the 1970s, TIA members carried out anti-government arson attacks such as bombing military trains, power substations, and police stations, in addition to a botched attempt to kill then-President Chiang Ching-Kuo (蔣經國), but Su Beng was never proud of those attacks.

"The use of violence is never glorious," he once noted. "It's only because we didn't have other options."

Unlike many of the overseas independence activists of his generation who compromised their positions to return to Taiwan under the KMT regime, Su Beng never gave in and sneaked back into the country in 1993, as the last dissident on the KMT blacklist.

According to Lan Shi-bo (藍士博), who organized Su Beng's oral history, he remained stubbornly faithful and never detailed his underground campaign to protect his comrades.

As a result, it remains unknown how exactly Su Beng organized attacks against the KMT, how he smuggled himself back into Taiwan, or how he raised NT$60 million (US$1.9 million) to finance underground independence radio stations in Taiwan by running a noodle shop.

Su Beng's life was also secretive because he had no close relatives in Taiwan after 41 years of exile, and no children because he had a vasectomy during the struggle against Japan.

"Real revolution means sacrificing oneself and making society better," he said.

What it takes to realize the dream of Taiwan independence, as Su Beng often said to younger generations, is nothing but "perseverance on the path," a belief he exemplified throughout his life.

(By Chi Jo-yao)
Enditem/AW